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November 2004

Culture clash

There is much heart-searching over the clash of cultures in Britain’s multi-ethnic society. The media sometimes approach overload in dealing with the subject, as politicians and community workers jostle to air their views.

Yet the most basic culture clash of all often goes unrecognised — the conflict between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.

Ignorant of God

Paul crystallises this conflict: ‘Since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe’ (1Corinthians 1:21).

Greek society in Paul’s day was strangely similar to our own. Advanced and virile, it excelled in commerce, in the visual and performing arts, in science and mathematics (remember Archimedes and Pythagoras?), in sport (the Olympic Games), and in political thought. It was supremely self-confident.

Its crowning glory, however, was philosophy — its ‘love of wisdom’. No other nation could match the Olympian authority of men like Plato, Aristotle and a host of others.

Yet, in another uncanny parallel with ourselves, the ancient Greeks were addicted to idolatry — ‘given over to idols’ (Acts 17:16). Today’s idols, of course, are somewhat different — money, materialism, pleasure, pop music, fashion, sport and so much else.

But they are idols just the same, for they occupy the place of God in the hearts of men.

The world’s wisdom

Western society, like ancient Greece, epitomises the wisdom of the world. Man glories in his achievements, especially in the realm of knowledge and ideas. An evolutionary world view pervades Western thought, penetrating far beyond its biological roots.

Increasingly, it dictates the agenda for ethics, education, science, medicine, social theory and culture in general — for both social action and government legislation. Any who challenge its relativistic assumptions do so at the risk of their careers and reputations.

It is not surprising, then, that ‘the world through wisdom does not know God’. Any idea of a Creator to whom men are answerable is anathema to the modern mind.

But so it was also to the ancients! They also mocked Paul’s radical message — concerning one who had risen from the dead and would one day judge the world (Acts 17:31). Nothing has changed.

The first lesson we must learn from all this is that there can be no accommodation between the wisdom of the world and God’s wisdom — the gospel. Many who consider themselves Christians try to reconcile the two wisdoms, but this is impossible.

Some try to harmonise the Bible with an evolutionary scenario, expunging the miraculous from creation and history. Others introduce forms of worship that minister to the ‘flesh’ rather than the spirit. Some advocate a multi-faith approach to religion.

But all attempts to harness the ideologies of the world are fruitless, for its wisdom is antagonistic to God.

The wisdom of God

Faced with the arrogance of the world’s wisdom, Christians can feel depressed and isolated — especially young people at school or college. We need to realise, therefore, that the world’s rejection of Christian belief is the direct result of God’s own choice!

It was, says Paul, ‘in the wisdom of God’ that the world by wisdom did not know him. God has closed the door of spiritual understanding to human wisdom. Why? ‘That no flesh should glory in his presence’ (1:29).

We can therefore take a robust attitude to the world’s wisdom, realising that its true name is ignorance — ‘for the foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1:25).

And having rejected man’s wisdom as a means of finding truth, God has provided an alternative route to genuine wisdom, namely, ‘the foolishness of the message preached’ (1:21). God’s wisdom — true ultimate knowledge — is revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and nowhere else.

We need not fear the wisdom of this world, let alone accommodate it or compromise with it. Our response must be the same as Paul’s, namely, to boldly preach ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ — to proclaim ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1:24).

Paul was ‘not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16). Neither should we be ashamed of it.

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